The Great October Mushroom Hunt

It was a surprise gift. Although rain was forecasted, Saturday October 14th dawned breezy and cool with only a few fluffy clouds blowing across the sun. Fifteen Saugeen Nature members and guests met at Joanne Anderson’s home to learn all about mushrooms.
Photo by Doug Lonsdale
Photo by Doug Lonsdale
Joanne started by showing us a few mushrooms that she had collected beforehand to illustrate different characteristics that are important for identification. There were examples of gilled mushrooms, toothed mushrooms, and small fungi called puffballs which forcibly eject or ‘puff’ their spores when touched. There was a mushroom that smelled like irises, another that had gills going partway down its stem, and a Stinkhorn that grows from an ‘egg’.
Joanne then directed our attention to small installations she had placed on the forest floor to grow mushrooms in a controlled way. There were log sections stacked and tied together to grow mushrooms that prefer a hardwood, or softwood substrate. These will take a while to produce mushrooms because the fungus starts by consuming the wood and until the wood is starting to rot (be consumed) there is no need for the fungus to produce the fruit that is a mushroom. There were also log-shaped substrates that looked like compressed sawdust mixed with other components. These would produce mushrooms more quickly. There was even a stump from a newly fallen tree that Joanne had infected with Shitake mushroom spores. She expects that it will take anywhere from 2 to 5 years for mushrooms to appear on this stump.
The group then travelled over to Allan Park where Joanne led us on a hunt for mushrooms in the wild. Because it was late in the season we learned that there would be fewer mushrooms to see than in say, September, which is a great month for finding mushrooms. Even so, we came across Chantarelles, Turkey Tail, Witches Butter, Bleeding Tooth Fungus, and Green Elf Cup which turns the wood that it has infected blue. We also saw Tinder Conk, Yellow Fairy Cups and Late Fall Polyphore.
Yellow Fairy Cups aka Lemon Drops Photo by John Reaume

We learned that mushrooms are grouped into three main types: parasitic ones that feed off other plant life (eg. wood), like Lion’s Mane; mycorrhizal fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with trees and other plants, for example; Truffles; and saprotrophic mushrooms that feed off dead and decaying matter. These last release special enzymes that hasten the deterioration of organic matter. Without fungi like these, and other detrivores, our forests would be filled with dead, undecayed trees and organic matter.

An important thing to remember is that many mushrooms are poisonous and only a few are edible. For an amateur they are hard to tell apart so it is better to learn about them and enjoy ‘hunting’ them, but for eating stick to the ones you know really well. Saugeen Nature holds outings like this one once a month. We explore nature in the woods, fields, lakes and wetlands around Bruce and Grey Counties.

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